The Uncontainable Diplomat
GEORGE F. KENNAN:
An American Life.
By John Lewis Gaddis.
Penguin Press. 784 pp. $39.95
A week after the death of Joseph Stalin, in March 1953, the new U.S. secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, called in George Frost Kennan, America’s most illustrious diplomat, to inform him that there was “no niche” for him in the Eisenhower administration. Nominally still the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, which had declared him persona non grata the previous year, Kennan (1904–2005) was not simply the leading American expert on the country, but also the author of “containment,” a strategy for resisting Soviet expansion by all measures short of war.
That was the trouble. Although containment had been (and was to remain) the cardinal principle of bipartisan foreign policy since shortly after Kennan had coined the term in 1946, it was deemed by the Republicans, in the age of McCarthyism and loyalty checks, to be too passive an approach. Dulles, with an eye to the ethnic vote in the 1952 presidential election, had replaced it with a clarion call for the liberation of the captive nations of Eastern Europe. Kennan believed this was lunacy. There was no place in foreign policy, he declared in a speech in Pennsylvania the day after Dulles had stressed his commitment to liberation during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for “emotionalism, the striking of heroic poses, and demagoguery of all sorts.”
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Martin Walker is senior director of A. T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council, a Wilson Center senior scholar, and author of The Cold War: A History (1994). His latest novel, Black Diamond, was just published.more from this author >>
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